By Bill Knief
Overall, UNM-Taos serves more than 700 students in its state-mandated Dual Credit Program, which makes it possible for high school students to take classes that count both for high school and college credit. Underscoring the value of this program, on May 8, two Questa High School students, Ariana Gallegos and Joaquin Romero, are going to graduate from UNM-Taos with associate’s degrees one week before they get their diplomas from high school.
“We serve a rich variety of student populations by helping them to expand their horizons and have an authentic college experience, explained Roberta Vigil, Senior Instructional Service Associate with the Department of Instruction. “We offer both academic and career-technical courses because we know that not all high school students are going to be academically inclined. There are also those who want career technical classes, and those who want to explore other avenues.
“We focus on core requirements that make up the core curriculum, such as English 110, Biology 123, Religion 107, and math every other semester. In the career-technical realm we offer Early Childhood Multicultural Education, wood working, art classes—it varies. When area schools originally approached us, they mainly wanted us to provide vocational classes that they didn’t have at their schools
such as music and art. Things have changed since then, with a stronger emphasis on the core curriculum. But our mission is still to provide the college experience, and because the program is free, it is a great opportunity for students and their families.”
Ariana Gallegos and Joaquin Romero have been working as a team since they were sophomores, with the goal of getting their associate’s degrees by the time they graduated from high school. “We help each other out,” Romero said. “Ariana and I made it a point to try to work together. We took some of the same classes so we would have one another to lean on if we needed to.”
“I’m 18 years old and I started the dual credit program in my sophomore year,” Gallegos told me, “and I’d like to go into the field of forensic psychology. I started off with a Spanish class and a welding class, and I’ve been coming every semester since then. I’m doing 19 credit hours of college classes along with two high school classes and I work part time at Centinel Bank. By the end of this semester I’ll have 64 college credits. It has been exciting. Being around older students, you kind of feel more independent yourself.”
With a work load like that, I asked her jokingly what she did in her spare time, and she said, “ I do volunteer work. I have a lot of community service hours that I have logged. That’s mostly what I do, along with spending time with my family.”
I wanted to know how she had been able to remain focused on her goals.
“I want to thank my family and community members and all my friends for standing by me and supporting me through my decisions. Now that I have gone as far as I have, I can say that it was all worth it. My dad graduated from law school and my mom went to college. They said to me ‘Don’t worry, we’ll see to it that you get a good education if you’re willing to go after it. If you can get your associate’s degree that’s awesome, but if you don’t, you’ve gotten this far and that’s great in and of itself.’ Having that support has been really good for me.”
“I’ve been taking dual credit classes since I was a sophomore,” Romero said. “I didn’t start until my second semester, so I cheated myself out of a semester, because you don’t have to pay anything as long as you stay focused and keep your grades up. I have 61 credit hours for the associate’s, and I would like to go into the biomedical sciences field and do research on diseases. I’ve taken a range of classes from psychology to peace studies at UNM-Taos. If everything works out I’d like to work for the California Department of Health.
“It has been hard to keep up at times, with extra online classes, high school, college classes and sports. I am going to take my summer off and rest a bit, and then start back again in the fall at main campus. But I would really recommend it to others. I have a teacher in Questa that told me to think about the long run, and that made it a lot easier. I’m saving my parents a lot of money and it is going to be easier to get my bachelor’s degree. It’s a really great thing and I am thankful that UNM-Taos was able to help me accomplish this.
“One major thing all students need is support. We are a small community and everyone knows you in Questa, so we have a great support system. I just want to let my community and my parents know that I thank you for helping me to get to this point. We are all sharing in this success.”